West Hollywood may be home to a thriving Russian community, but at least one import is no longer welcome at the city’s gay bars.
After Russian President Vladimir Putin recently signed anti-gay laws, bar owners decided to say nyet to Stolichnaya vodka. Numerous bars have removed the brand — made from Russian ingredients — from their shelves and stopped ordering it from distributors. Bars in New York, Chicago, Seattle and San Francisco are planning to do the same.
“Nobody was buying it,” said Bob Yacoubian, owner of the Mother Lode bar in West Hollywood.
Yacoubian plans to hang a sign in his bar reading: “Russia’s intolerance of homosexuality should not be supported by our hard-earned money!”
Putin recently signed legislation banning “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations,” including gay pride events and providing children with information about homosexuality.
Human rights activists say the legislation has encouraged hate crimes against gays and lesbians. He also recently signed legislation banning gay adoptions.
West Hollywood City Councilman John Duran, who has been encouraging bars to join the boycott, said protesters in West Hollywood plan to dump the contents of Stolichnaya bottles into a gutter to raise awareness of Russia’s laws. The protest is planned for Thursday in front of Micky’s bar and will use bottles filled with water, not vodka, he said.
Micky’s, as well as Eleven Bar & Nightclub, have stopped selling Stolichnaya. In a statement on its Facebook page, Revolver Video Bar announced last week that it would boycott all of the brand’s products “effective immediately” and “could not support any brand associated with Russia.”
About 40% of West Hollywood’s population is gay or lesbian, according to city surveys. It is also home to a large number of immigrants from countries of the former Soviet Union, who make up 11% of the city’s population, city surveys state.
Russian bakeries and stores line Santa Monica Boulevard — as do gay bars. Public notices in City Hall, where a rainbow flag flies, are in English and Russian.
The chief executive of the SPI Group, which owns the Stolichnaya vodka brand, responded to the boycott in an open letter “to the LGBT community” on Thursday.
“Stolichnaya Vodka has always been, and continues to be a fervent supporter and friend to the LGBT community,” Val Mendeleev wrote.
The Stolichnaya brand, he wrote, has no ties to the Russian government. Though the vodka is made from Russian ingredients, it is privately owned by the SPI Group, headquartered in Luxembourg, Mendeleev wrote.